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Thursday, March 25, 2010 - 4:13pm

Nuclear Fuel Storage Uncertain

Environmental groups say contracts by the U.S. Department of Energy to permanently store spent nuclear fuel from power plants are ineffective, at least for now.

That’s could mean power plants, like Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, will likely still have to store the fuel from new nuclear reactors on their own sites for years to come.

The DOE in 2008 signed the contracts with 21 companies, including the Atlanta-based Southern Company, to permanently dispose of their spent nuclear fuel. The companies are seeking to build new commercial nuclear reactors, the first in the U.S. in decades.

But the federal government this year abandoned its only plan for permanent storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a project that had consumed billions of dollars and years of study, but no nuclear fuel.

Because there's no federal site, the plants store the spent fuel at their individual locations. A spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear Operating Company says that Vogtle would likely start storing the fuel in large concrete containers above ground, known as a dry cask process, eventually. Fuel from the existing reactors is currently placed in storage pools.

The DOE contracts only address any fuel produced by the new reactors and are required in the federal licensing process for the reactors, all of which are still under review.

A blue ribbon commission appointed by President Obama began studying new options for permanent disposal today. The committee must report on its findings in 18 months.

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